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Looking a gift horse in the mouth--once again: Some African countries continue to baffle by once again failing to look beyond narrow self-interest and missing out on vast opportunities for growth and wealth creation, such as the recent Continental Free Trade Agreement.

"Policies and history don't move by themselves, it is us, humans, who can bring change"

Dr Leopold Ngomo, official of the AU Southern Africa Region Office

Yet again, in a matter of just a few months, I have to tackle the issue of us Africans not taking ourselves seriously. I tackled the same issue in the March issue of A/A, as the African Union had launched the Single African Air Transport Market (SATM) in January 2018 with only 23 of Africa's 55 countries putting their signatures to the document, even though the SATM had been in the works for 38 long years.

As if that was not enough disappointment and frustration, on 21 March 2018, Africa again took a major step towards implementing one of the long-held dreams of the African Union: free trade across the continent (See 'Let's celebrate CFTA', April 2018 issue). And once again, to the shame of us all, just 44 countries signed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement at the AU Summit in Kigali, leaving right-thinking Africans wondering what could possibly be the problem with us, though if ratified, the AfCFTA will become one of the world's largest trading blocs.

Leading the 'refusniks' this time was Nigeria--of all countries! As Africa's current largest economy and the most populous country, Nigeria can only bow its head in shame for the flimsy excuse it gave for not joining the AfCFTA.

"We will not agree to anything that will undermine local manufacturers and entrepreneurs, or that may lead to Nigeria becoming a dumping ground for finished goods," Nigeria's President, Muhammadu Buhari, explained in a tweet.

He claimed that Nigeria's Federal Executive Council (FEC) had set up a Presidential Committee to widen consultations on the AfCFTA and report back to the FEC within two weeks. The question is: What was Nigeria doing all this time when the AfCFTA was under discussion? What consultations could Nigeria not have done in all those months and years when the Agreement was on the table? It only shows how serious some of our countries are about matters African!

What really gets my goat is the fact that President Buhari was reported to have cancelled his trip to the Kigali Summit only 48 hours before he was due to travel to the Rwandan capital, claiming his government needed "to allow more time for input from Nigerian stakeholders". His turnaround decision was believed to have been influenced by pressure from trade and labour unions.

Running Nigeria to a close second in the refusniks' league table was South Africa--again of all countries! Since apartheid was defeated in 1994, South Africa has been selling everything and anything you can think of to the rest of Africa, yet President Cyril Ramaphosa's country had the temerity to refuse to join the AfCFTA, only signing the Kigali Declaration but not the actual free trade agreement itself, saying it needed more time to "follow constitutional and internal processes" to sign the agreement.

May the Good Lord help these countries to see beyond their feeding spoons!

I shudder to think what went through the heads, and is still going through the heads, of the leaders of the other refusnik countries--Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, Burundi, Eritrea, Benin, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau. Are they able to look into the eyes of their fellow African leaders and feel good about themselves, knowing that they are not only betraying themselves but the whole continent?

Benefits of agreement cannot be overstated

For, the benefits of the AfCFTA to the one billion or so Africans on this benighted continent cannot be overstated. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), reducing intra-African tariffs--one of the conditions of the AfCFTA--"could bring $3.6bn in welfare gains to the continent through a boost in production and cheaper goods".

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) adds that if the AfCFTA is fully adopted, intra-African trade can increase by 52% by 2022. "That will represent a major growth as the current reality is stark, with intra-African trade making up only 16% of total trade on the continent in 2014," as Quartz Africa reports.

Last October, I sat through a three-day UNECA conference in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where we were told the harrowing story of how Africa's road freight cost was about four times more than in other regions of the world. For example, the average cost of exporting a container from an African country overseas is about $2,000, while in Asia it is less than half that amount, about $900. The theme of the conference, which was convened by UNECA for the 18 SADC countries, was "Trade facilitation in Southern Africa: Bridging the infrastructure gap".

Giovanie Biha, the Deputy Executive Secretary of UNECA, told the conference that "intra-SADC cost of export [per container] is $1,904 and to import is $2,428. The equivalent figures for intra-ASEAN trade are $743.50 and $787.50 respectively. Other Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in Africa register even higher figures. In the west of the continent, a truck transporting millet or sorghum on the Koutiala-Dakar corridor has to pass through almost 100 checkpoints and border posts, and the driver can expect to pay bribes of about $437."

Speaking at the same conference, Dr Leopold Ngomo, an official from the African Union Southern Africa Region Office, bemoaned the fact that Africa's colonial history had made it impossible for its countries to trade meaningfully among themselves as the trade model and infrastructure set by the colonial powers were still intact, more than 50 years after most of Africa became independent.

"In reality, Africa has an intratrade rate of 10%," Dr Ngomo said. "We are not trading between ourselves or the trade is not enough." As a result, "our economies and businesses are largely done by, with, and for, foreign partners."

Using specific African countries to buttress his point, Dr Ngomo said: "In Southern Africa, Zambia's main export partners are Switzerland (45%), and China (20%), which already make up 65% of Zambia's trade with the world. Then come the UK, South Africa, Zimbabwe and DRCongo. Zambia almost doesn't officially trade with its close neighbours: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia, and Tanzania.

"In East Africa, Ethiopia's main export partners are the US, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Switzerland, and China. It has almost no official trade with its close neighbours Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan, Somalia and South Sudan.

"In West Africa, Cote d'lvoire's main export destinations are the Netherlands, US, France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg. What about close neighbours Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia and Mali?

"In North Africa, Egypt's major export partners are Italy, Spain, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Turkey, US, Brazil and Argentina.

"We need more trade, more regional infrastructure, more industrialisation, more commitment from all of us," Dr Ngomo said, pointing out that in contrast to African countries not trading with their neighbours, the UK's main trading partners are Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Belgium, the US--mostly close neighbours.

"China's main trading partners are Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and the US. Japan's main trading partners are China, South Korea, Thailand, and Hong Kong. The US's main trading partners are Canada, Mexico, China, and Japan."

Dr Ngomo pointed out, alarmingly, that "because of the importance of their trade partnerships, China will really care about what happens in the US, South Korea and Japan, while the US will really pay more attention to Canada, Mexico, UK and Japan than what happens in Africa." He thus urged African countries to go beyond mere words because "policies and history don't move by themselves, it is us, humans, who can bring change."

Should I say more? No, I rest my case.

Caption: Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission. Just 44 African countries signed up to the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement at the recent AU Summit in Kigali
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Title Annotation:BAFFOUR'S BEEFS
Author:Ankomah, Baffour
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:May 1, 2018
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